America in World War 1

To teach World War 1 to high school students requires a variety of different teaching methods; the war was complicated both in terms of its origins and its results. One of the best ways I have found to introduce any new unit is to ask students relevant questions that they can apply to their lives. For example, to introduce World War One, I ask students to define the word "neutral." We discuss the various definitions given. Next, I ask them to think of times when they remained neutral in family disagreements or fights among friends. What about those times when they actually took a stand and chose a side? All responses are discussed. Finally, we talk about what conditions affected their choices.

I explain to students that America was in the same dilemma when World War 1 first broke out. The last thing we wanted to do was get involved in this “European” situation. Our president, Woodrow Wilson, vowed that he would keep America out of the war. As I teach with the PowerPoint presentation, I explain that as the months and years passed, however, America slowly came to the sobering realization that staying completely neutral might not be possible. For one thing, Germany was provoking us by sinking innocent, civilian ships and by trying to entice Mexico to declare war on us! Additionally, many Americans were immigrants from Europe or the children of immigrants and they felt personally involved as the conflict grew. Lastly, America had commercial interests in Europe, specifically Great Britain, which were being jeopardized by the ongoing war.

Meanwhile, Russia underwent a revolution and its first order of business was to get out of the costly war. When Russia made a separate peace with Germany, and pulled itself out of the war, millions of German troops were now available to fight in the west. Great Britain and the other Allies were overwhelmed and pleaded with America to come help them fight.

All of these events made it very difficult for the United States to remain neutral. On April 6th, 1917, Woodrow Wilson brought America into the war with the support of Congress. By this time, the American people were also in agreement that we couldn’t continue our policy of neutrality.

Woodrow Wilson wanted to live in a world where the horrors and destruction of war would be but a faint memory. On January 18, 1918, even as young men continued to fight in Europe, Wilson stood before the United States Congress talking about peace. His desperate hope was that the world would “be made safe for every nation.” He went on to say that every nation had a right to live its own life, determine its own institutions, and be assured of justice and fair dealing by other nations. His program for achieving these goals became known as the Fourteen Points.

When the war was finally over, our president traveled to Versailles, Paris to meet with the leaders of the Allies to discuss the terms of the peace treaty. He took his Fourteen Points with him and urged the others to incorporate all of the Fourteen Points into the treaty. Unfortunately, Great Britain and especially France, had vengeance on their mind. They wanted to make Germany pay for what it had started. Sadly, their blind lust for blood would ultimately lead to another horrific world war. It’s very difficult not to wonder what could have been, had Wilson’s Fourteen Points been the foundation of the Treaty of Versailles. As I mentioned earlier, teaching this unit requires many different instructional methods. In addition to the basic elements of the unit routine, there are two different projects a critical thinking assignment, and a document based assignment, just to name a few. Teachers can also incorporate film or literature to boost overall comprehension. Two excellent films are All Quiet on the Western Front and Behind the Lines. Download learning packets for these films at our Teach with Movies page.

A list of key terms related to this unit to get your students acquainted with World War 1.

This study sheet visually illustrates the alliances of World War 1 to students.

A complete PowerPoint presentation featuring 72 colorful, informative slides about World War 1 and America's involvement in it.

A complete set of Fill-in-the-Notes for your students. Simply download the presentation, print the slides (six per page) and give each student a copy so they can take notes with while you teach and present unit 15.

For this assignment, you will need the National Geographic documentary on the Lusitania. As students watch the documentary, they are required to write down interesting, relevant facts on this handout.

A great project for placing the events of World War 1 in perspective. Students use research and creativity to produce timelines of the Great War.

This grading rubric allows your students to see how they will be graded on the project and makes it easy for you to do the grading!

As students complete this essay assignment, they will understand the "spark" that set off a European war in the summer of 1914.

This Critical Thinking Assignment requires students to read historical sources and to analyze & interpret those sources into their own words.

An excellent Document Based Activity that focuses on the impact of World War 1.

This interactive group project asks students to consider and investigate the different reasons why America decided to enter into the war.

A study guide to prepare students for the test; I always make mine a mandatory assignment. It's been proven in my classes time and time again: if students complete the entire study guide, they do well on the test.

All of the tests on are a mix of term matching, multiple choice, and information recall with short answer questions and essay questions.

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